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Chapter 16

The Time & Place:
Some time later that day, inside Danisha's 15th Century Parisian home,. a stunned Claude Frollo deals with shocking truth. He feels betrayed by Philippe...
How could he do this? How could he betray me like that? How could he betray his own brother? Oh Évrard,  how could they deceive you in the worst possible...?! 

He needed to get out of the Palais the moment he read that letter. He had to get out of there, even after Évrard begged him to stay for Philippe's final moments. No, have to leave this madness... 

He remained in the Palais long enough to hear Gervais Trigèré's report that both kidnappers – Imbert l'Etrange and Fabrisse – were now locked away awaiting interrogation and trial. Gervais also reported that soldiers were presently in search of Hervé and Jacques Marquecoin, the two Julian suspected of rigging that booby trap at the mill. Frollo acknowledged this, expressed his gratitude to Trigèré, saying, "Sir, I leave everything in your capable hands. The moment those Marquecoin are in custody, notify me at once! You know where to find me..." 

And that's where Frollo was now, in his "New World" lady's home, surrounding by all things comforting and familiar. With an old Bessie Smith tune wailing mournfully from the gramophone, Claude Frollo read that letter again and again; he still couldn't believe it. A bitter father in Marseilles wrote and sent this nearly eight years ago out of desperation. It was addressed to Frollo but Philippe Ouimet intercepted it, and had hidden it away all these years. 
That is what a dying Philippe revealed to Claude Frollo – that he knew the "secret" that Évrard is never to learn lest it destroy him. Philippe, on his deathbed, confessed, "Claude, there is a letter hidden within the Palais...In a secret compartment, known only to myself, behind the tapestry...The letter details events leading up to André Soulé's daughter's suicide. That would be Rixende, Évrard's wife...She and a woman named Francesca Gaudet maintained a most unnatural, immoral, affair...Apparently Imbert l'Etrange figures into this...What the women did in the end...Oh, Claude! I never meant to keep this from you, but I felt it best to do so lest Évrard learns it...Soulé's letter reveals much..." 

In that letter Claude Frollo learned it all: An illicit, immoral love affair between two women; Soulé hurriedly pairing Rixende with Évrard; Imbert hired to spy on the women; a vicious rape...the resultant baby... 

When Claude recalled this morning's message from Fern and Iggy, all the pieces – well, most of them – fell into place. What they learned while in Marseilles would not be revealed until their arrival to 1495 Paris, but Claude Frollo fairly pieced it all together. 

Francesca Gaudet, Rixende's lover, is now residing in Paris as Felise LaCourbe, apparently trying to escape her past and rebuild her life. And, it dawned on Claude Frollo, that Imbert l'Etrange held this damning information over Felise in efforts to silence the woman. No wonder she would not come forth...Imbert knows of the deception...But does Imbert himself know the entire truth...? 

Claude's thoughts turned to Cherie Wood, Danisha's sister, a woman who herself was "like that" although she seldom "outted" herself to many people. She simply carried on with her life and never gave her sexual orientation further thought. It was Nisha who finally confessed Cherie's sexual leanings to Frollo; she owed him that much since he often wondered why Cherie never had suitors. 

"Well, Claude," Nisha once told him, "Cherie had 'suitors' but they weren't boys, if you catch my drift. I know it shocks your medieval sense of decency and morality. My folks, as liberal and progressive as they are, still have a tough time accepting Cherie's lesbianism. Momma's come around somewhat but Daddy's still in denial in the worst way." 
Which is why Cherie chose not to advertise or flaunt her sexuality. She had a couple of serious relationships – Leigh Gaudet-Norris was her first, and, apparently, Felise LaCourbe is the second. Claude Frollo pondered the many ramifications if Felise AKA Francesca was ever "outted". As a former magistrate, Frollo knew very well the penalty for "perversion" – Either banishment or death. 
As much as he admired Felise for her talent, wit, and charm, there was still the fact that she was lesbian, and that lifestyle carried a heavy price. In this slice of late medieval France, as in subsequent centuries, it was simply "Don't ask, don't tell." 

Claude thought of his brother Jehan's involvement with Felise. Incredible that word on the street centered around Jehan and Felise; many of Jehan's close friends tried to "match" him with Felise LaCourbe. Claude Frollo wondered if Jehan knew the truth about Felise all along. He knew that Jehan spent the bulk of the summer of 1481 in Florence, and that he met a woman named Francesca... 

My God! This is more complicated than I realized. 

Ah well, Frollo thought, wait until Danisha arrives with Nadine...Cherie and Felise have gone to Notre Dame... I do not feel Évrard should know; such news could be too much to handle...No! A son belongs with his father... 

Frollo took out his transtemporal communication and sent a direct message to Jacki Darcey-Terrell who at this moment hid a now-safe Orry Ouimet at Chateau d'Arcy. 

Bring Orry home at once. The kidnappers have been apprehended. I shall send soldiers to escort you and the boy safely to Paris. Come to Danisha's home right away as there is much to discuss.
Claude Frollo

Immediately afterwards, he called for the hired servant to, "Deliver a message to the Palais straightaway. Inform M. Évrard Ouimet to come here at once. I know he is mourning the loss of his brother, but he must come here – Now! His son is due to arrive this very evening. Now, begone! And don't take all day!" 

The servant clicked to attention, quickly obeyed, then hurried off on his errand. There! At last, father and son will soon be reunited, but...Should Évrard be informed that his son, his only child, is in reality... 

For the next hour, Claude Frollo sat and brooded over revelations he wished he'd never learned. How he wished he was in Marseilles now, giving André Soulé a resounding taste of a "Frollo rage". How still he wanted to be in Palais dungeons now, reveling with delight while Imbert and Fabrisse suffered in agony as under fierce interrogation. How dare these two men – not that I leave Mlle Francesca Gaudet without blame – conduct the most underhanded... 

He must had fallen asleep when he heard footsteps approaching. The sweet caress and tender kiss to the forehead was welcome comfort. Claude opened his eyes to behold the woman he loved; he took her outstretched hand and gently pulled her to his side. 

"Danisha, where is Nadine?" 
"She's upstairs playing. I noticed you were sleeping so I ordered her not to disturb you..." 

He eyed his beloved, noting that she didn't bother to change clothes. The black and red St. John suit with its signature trim and buttons that was oh-so chic for the streets of 21st Century Manhattan was hardly the thing for 1495 Paris. 
Nisha picked up on this and said, "I didn't have time to change...Claude, Fern called me a few minutes before Nadine and I departed. She says she and Iggy will be here this evening, and that they had important information about...What is going on? What is all this about Felise and Évrard and Rixende and Orry...?" 

The woman's eyes shone with tears as she sent forth a volley of questions. Claude said nothing as he placed that letter into Nisha's well-manicured hands. She looked at the letter in puzzlement, then looked at Claude and said, "Sugarbritches, what is this?" She scanned the letter, narrowed her eyes, then said, "Claude, this is in French – and a southern dialect by the looks of it. Why are you showing me this? Does it have anything to do with Orry and Évrard?" 

At last, Frollo finally laid it all out: The kidnapping...the ransom...the lies and deceit spread about by one man...the revenge of a father who lost his only daughter years immoral love affair...Imbert l'Etrange, Rixende Ouimet née Soulé, Francesca Gaudet AKA Felise LaCourbe.... 

"Oh my God! Claude, you should've told me sooner; I could've been here for the family in case..." 
"But you have been here – through Nadine's actions. My darling, when I returned Nadine's device to her dresser drawer, that was the day before you left for New York. Yet she somehow..." 

Now Danisha put it together. "She got hold of Cherie's device, slipped back home to retrieve hers, then come back here. She gives the device to Orry, and she merely uses mine to 'talk' to the boy...Oh, Claude! Our baby saved the boy's life! But I still don't understand what all this about Évrard's wife and Francesca..." 

Her eyes grew wide as she suddenly realized just who Mlle Gaudet really is. 

"Francesca Gaudet is Leigh's ancestor, and she resides here in Paris as Felise LaCourbe. But, Claude, there was a little boy named Guibert. Is this...?" 

Claude Frollo arose from the couch and walked over to the gramophone. He selected another disc to play – old Eubie Blake tunes this time – then returned to Nisha's side. With heavy heart he finally revealed all that was in that letter. 
"André Soulé, Évrard's father-in-law, wrote that about eight years ago. It was meant for my eyes only, yet Philippe intercepted it and hid it away. Now I understand why Philippe did such a thing – to protect Évrard. But in doing so, he undermined my trust." 

Cuddling Nisha close, and he knew she would need comforting once she learned the whole story, Claude continued. "Soulé had hoped that I, as Minister of Justice, would do something about Francesca. For you see, her peculiar lifestyle is illegal and carries a heavy penalty, that is if she should ever be, as you term, forced out of the closet. This is why she never came forth as the eyewitness...." 

And with that, Frollo proceeded to tell Nisha everything. He watched her reaction turn from astonishment to shock to tearful rage. Afterwards, he allowed her to cry it all out – the shock of hearing this sordid medieval soap opera was too much, even for one as strong as Danisha. Once she regained composure, she said between sobs, "No wonder the poor woman would say nothing about...Imbert had her scared silent. Imagine! Having to live with this knowledge for all this time! And Évrard never found out?!" 

Frollo sadly nodded. "My love, in my opinion, Évrard needs never know, after all, he is the only parent Orry has ever known..." 

He fell silent again then, after a brief pause, prepared to speak again only to be disturbed by an insistent knock on the door. Instantly, Danisha arose to answer it, asking, "Where is Cherie, anyway?" 
Claude replied, "To Notre Dame, with Felise..." 

The door flew open and the guests were immediately ushered inside. Both Iggy McMullen and Fern Grigsby, Frollo's "New World" spies, rushed in with pertinent information. The queen-sized Fern handed Frollo a packet of papers and drawings as she said, "Sir, we got all this stuff cataloged. That caretaker, Quentine, at Évrard Ouimet's villa was a godsend. She knew the Gaudets from way back...Well, it's all in there." 

It didn't take Frollo long to sift through and take in every word, every detail. He suddenly reeled when he saw the drawing of little Guibert. It took both Fern and Nisha to calm him down. Daniel "Iggy" McMullen fetched a cup of brandy and placed it into Claude's still-trembling hand. 
Upon a couple of sips, Frollo felt his composure regained; he asked Iggy a pressing question to which the still the overgrown flower child replied, "Sir, it's true. Fern and Quentine almost beat it out of the old man. Soulé hired a Georges Morté – a paid assassin – to bump off Felise AKA Francesca Gaudet. Soulé paid Morté 2500 ducats in advance...Hey, where is Mlle LaCourbe now?" 

At that moment, Frollo could sense that the woman who called herself Felise LaCourbe, along with Danisha's sister Cherie, were about to emerge from Notre Dame. Only Felise could corroborate what Frollo finally learned, and her life may be in danger. No, she must tell me the truth, for if it is indeed the truth, Imbert l'Etrange has more charges to face... 
Suddenly Claude Frollo feared something else – what if Morté is lurking out in the back alley? 

"Danisha," Frollo said, "I really need to go to la Place de Notre-Dame. Hopefully your sister and Felise are safe..." 

Well, they didn't have to wait for Felise and Cherie to return, for the pair could be seen rushing to the front door. They pounded frantically and shouted, "Let us in!" 
Within moments, both ladies were allowed entry and they immediately launched into an emotional account of a recent drama. It was Cherie Wood who spoke first. 

"It happened so fast! We were nearly home when it happened!" 
"When what happened, Cherie?," asked Danisha. 

Mlle Cherie Wood answered, "A man came out of nowhere and grabbed Felise, but....Oh my God, you won't believe this!" 

Felise LaCourbe, herself in tears and near hysteria, accepted brandy and Nisha's reassuring comfort. How fortunate that, of all people, the woman who nearly caused Claude Frollo's downfall so many years ago – and incurred Danisha's animosity – appeared out of nowhere. She, the one they call la Esmeralda, save her life! But, as Cherie and Felise agreed to do, they could, naturally, never tell Frollo or Nisha the entire truth, so Felise made up a plausible recount. 

"The man grabbed me from the side and held me at knifepoint. Cherie tried to scream for help, and that's when she appeared." 
"Who is 'she'?," asked Frollo warily. 
"A woman and her child were in the vicinity. She rushed over and knocked this man down! Then other people came and....They beat the man almost unconscious....He's still lying out in the back alley. Phoebus happened by and saw the entire thing; he's standing watch, making sure the man doesn't escape." 

Iggy McMullen nodded and indicated, "I bet that man was Georges Morté." 

Frollo acknowledged this, then came upon an idea. This woman does not know that Morté was sent to kill her, and only she can help us wrap this investigation...Yes! 

He spoke in soft tones to Felise. "Mlle LaCourbe, as soon as you are able, I want you come to the Palais with me. Once there you must identify Imbert and Fabrisse as Orry's kidnappers." 
Felise started to whimper protests, but Frollo continued with, "I know about you...umm...delicate circumstances, and why you chose to remain silent. While I do not approve of or condone what you and Madame Ouimet did, I understand the extenuating circumstances called for desperate measures. What I want you to do is confront Imbert l'Etrange with everything. I take it he never knew..." 

Felise LaCourbe shook her head. "No, M. Frollo, sir. Only Rixende and I knew the truth. Of course, her father found out via that suicide letter. At least, that's what Quentine related to me so many years later." 
Frollo smiled and said, "Well, let us be off to the Palais." 

To the others he left strict orders: 
"When Évrard and the others arrive, tell them to stay inside until I give an 'all clear'. I'll have men secure the back streets and the immediate area. Oh yes, send for the Flamberts as well. They should be the when Orry comes home." 

Everyone complied, but there was one nagging question: the identity of Felise's saviors. Frollo merely shrugged and replied, "Perhaps it was a Good Samaritan deed performed by a passerby. The good people who came to Mlle LaCourbe and Cherie's aid obviously want no accolades...Ah well, no matter." 


To Chapter 17

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